Be vivid, not vague.

By Adam Reynolds on Mar 26, 2020

Let’s start with a little game of spot the difference.

How are these two terms different?

  1. Practice social distancing
  2. Stay at home. Shop once a week.

The first is a new term. We‘ve all heard it a lot in the last few months, but it’s still conceptual. We kind of understand it, sort of, ish. But it’s vague. Not concrete. Its meaning slips through our fingers. Drifting away on the breeze.

The second is not new. It’s a known term. More than that, it’s specific. It’s also visual. I can picture my home. I can picture myself staying there. I can picture myself going to buy food once a week.

The second term is not vague, it’s vivid. That’s the difference.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary shows spikes in searches for terms like ‘pandemic’, ‘self isolation’ and ‘martial law’ that grimly mirror the rise in Covid-19 infections. In times of crisis, we simply don’t have the mental capacity to translate conceptual language. We narrow our focus to staying alive.

It’s also worth pointing out that what we say and what people hear are often two different things. But it’s our responsibility to ensure people hear what we say. In the words of Peggy Noonan, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal and Ronald Reagan’s former speech writer…

Most of the important things you will ever say or hear in your life are composed of simple, good, sturdy words. “I love you.” “It’s over.” “It’s a boy.” “He’s dead.” These are the words of big events. Because they are big you speak with utter and unconscious concentration as you communicate them.

Peggy Noonan

Clear writing matters. Use common words to say uncommon things. Simple, good, sturdy words. Real words with concrete meanings that can’t be misunderstood.

Real words real people use in real conversations every day.